The Pew Research study’s finding that a record 40 percent of all households with children include “breadwinner moms” — who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family — hit the nation like of a ton of bricks, crashing down on the Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best image of the American nuclear family.
For better or worse, African-Americans appear to be at the forefront of most of the social shifts that are fueling the rise of breadwinner moms. These trends include single motherhood, rates of divorce, women’s educational and career ascendancy and men’s increasing unemployment and underemployment.
According to the Pew study, 63 percent of the breadwinner moms are single mothers; additionally, African-American mothers are disproportionately single. Black mothers make up 12.4 percent of all mothers, but comprise 27.5 percent of all single mothers, 40.1 percent of never-married mothers and 17.1 percent of divorced, separated or widowed mothers.
Black women: More likely to out-earn than be out-earned
Among the married mothers, the study showed that married black mothers are more likely to be primary breadwinner moms than to be mothers whose husbands have the higher income. Of the married women who out-earn their husbands, ten percent are black. Comparatively, only 6 percent of the couples in which the husband is the primary breadwinner include married black women.
This is not surprising given the fact that, according to National Center for Education Statistics, the largest gender difference in college enrollments was among black students as black females accounted for 64 percent of the total black undergraduate enrollment. Further, as of May 2013, 11.2 percent of black women over the age of 20 were unemployed compared to 13.5 percent of black men in that same age demographic, a percentage point difference that was almost four times that of whites.
Is the end of marriage coming?
So what do these statistics with respect to the rising economic power of women and dwindling economic power of men mean for society?
Stanford Law School Professor Ralph Richard Banks has asserted that these trends may signal the end of marriage as the bedrock social institution in the U.S. African-Americans, who have experienced the greatest gender status shifts, are the canary in the coal mine heralding, not just the reevaluation and re-configuration of marriage, but the slow withering away of the once-universal institution.
While many media outlets have portrayed these shifts in the meaning and stability of marriage in a negative way, it might be the case that African-Americans’ familiarity with fiscal crisis and blended families makes this group better equipped to create enduring marriages despite these social evolutions.
African-American women cope well with “mancession”
Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City, told theGrio that among her clients of all races, African-American wives seemed the most resilient in dealing with the “mancession” and new era of the breadwinner mom.
“In general, African-American women were less likely to experience paralyzing devastation after their spouses experienced job loss,” she said. “They just swung into action because they just seemed accustomed to doing everything and anything to make life work. In some ways, they seemed to not have the expectation that a man would financially support them all the time, so although they were just as vulnerable and saddened as other wives, they were also more resilient.”